5 Signs Your Meeting is Doomed (and How to Save the Next One)
You usually don’t realize the mess you’re in until you’re in the thick of it. Then, you look around and wonder, “Where’s the closest exit?”
By that point, it’s too late. When it comes to totally dysfunctional work meetings, there’s no graceful escape. Those meetings are doomed to be unproductive time-sucks.
The trick is to recognize when your meeting is sinking (and stinking), and determine what needs to change to ensure it never happens again. And that’s where our tips come in.
Here are 5 signs of a doomed meeting, and how to save your next one from a tragic fate:
1. The purpose of the meeting is a mystery to everyone but you.
“Do you know what this meeting is for?” mumbles harmless attendee A to not-yet-caffeinated attendee B as they make their way to the boardroom.
“I have no idea,” yawns attendee B, “Did someone send out an email?”
Not this time.
Unless you’re hosting a support group for clairvoyants, you need to prepare attendees beforehand by explaining the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to achieve.
Create an agenda for the meeting and get it in the hands or email inboxes of everyone involved. Do this at least a day before the meeting. It’s one more thing to do, but it’s worth it.
This allows attendees to start the meeting with you in the right mindset for accomplishing your goals. Otherwise, your ambiguous meeting will likely encourage tardiness, rambling, and distracted behavior, sinking it slowly into a tragic waste.
2. There are long, painfully awkward silences.
This is because your attendees are indiscreetly ‘multi-tasking’ on their smart phones and their lack of attention to the meeting has rendered them incapable of contributing.
Translation: you just lost your agenda to Angry Birds. How does that make you feel?
It’s too late to snatch those phones from their nimble thumbs. And it’s not an option during conference calls.
Next time, do as Merlin Mann and be the ‘parent’ in the meeting. Someone has to do it. And if you called the meeting, it’s definitely up to you.
A good parent watches over the meeting carefully by:
- Periodically verbally summarizing the points discussed
- Explicitly inviting everyone to participate
- Directly asking non-participatory attendees to contribute with something specific
These tactics demonstrate to attendees you require their attention, whether they’re dialed in to a conference call from across the country, or sitting across from you in a meeting room. Instead of “grounding” them by asking them to shut down their mobile devices, you encourage collaboration.
3. You are experiencing technical difficulties.
Nothing provokes the patience of humankind like that 3-second delay during a poor quality phone call or a PowerPoint presentation that shuts itself down after two slides. When technical difficulties have a more influential presence than actual humans in the room, your meeting is seriously doomed.
We can’t trust technology to have our back every time, but we can get pretty damn close when we use effective solutions such as professional conference calling services and test the systems in advance.
Ask yourself: does the projector need a new light bulb? Do you need to have more people on the phone than your current provider can allow? What about the YouTube clip for your presentation – does the WiFi in the room support it?
Make the most of everyone’s time by taking stock of the technical details.
4. “Where’s (Insert very important person’s name here)?”
As you watch callers join your phone conference meeting, you get a sneaky feeling someone is missing.
During the discussion, you realize you left out the key decision maker/innovator/team member for the topic at hand. The meeting is busted.
Luckily, this is an easy fix for next time:
Define the goals for the meeting beforehand. Then, invite the people who can help you achieve the goals.
The “who” and “how many” you invite will depend on the type of meeting. Check out productivity expert Laura Stack’s guide to deciding who should attend.
5. Your head hurts from giving a rambler the evil eye.
Contrary to your nine-year-old-self’s belief, your eyes cannot shoot laser beams capable of muting the rambler who is currently riffing on the selection of teas in the staff room. To quiet this meeting killer next time, speak up.
“The key to an efficient meeting is a strong leader,” says Fast Company contributor Gina Trapani, “Their job is to keep things on track, not be afraid to cut off long-winded discussions, and be willing to end things early once business is done.”
Interrupt the rambling speaker when necessary to restate the purpose of the meeting and verbally evaluate whether the contribution has helped move the effort forward.
Your colleagues will silently thank you—with puppy eyes.
Have any doomed meeting horror stories? Share them with us in the comment section below.